My original plan for this post was to explore the effects of lockdown on writing habits, refining it to a single question: has the Covid-19 pandemic improved or impaired productivity in relation to creative writing? Social media seemed to represent the issue in a very binary way, particularly towards the beginning of lockdown. There were “inspirational” posts suggesting everybody should use the extra time saved (whether from being furloughed or minimising other activities) to finally write that novel and produce masterpieces, citing the productivity of Newton and Shakespeare during plague years as encouragement. These calls to action were met by numerous writers sharing the opposite experience, pointing out the difficulties of focusing on anything when one is flooded with anxiety and uncertainty.
I realised the question of productivity is not sensitive enough to encapsulate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on writers and writing. Some people’s productivity may fall into the extremes of “I’ve finished one novel, drafted another and am planning my third” or “I’m so stressed/anxious/depressed I can barely write my shopping list”, but what does that tell us about writing? In my opinion, it does little more than highlight how different people have different reactions, pressures and coping strategies in the face of adversity.
Another realisation followed: I bet a lot of writers are feeling inadequate and discouraged. I certainly was!
While social media and the internet in general are wonderful ways to stay connected (I credit attending online Exeter Writers meetings with keeping me vaguely sane), they also invite a great deal of social comparison – far more than we would otherwise encounter. It can be difficult to keep writing, or even thinking about writing, while being bombarded with messages telling us we should be making the most of our extra time in lockdown and realising our creative ambitions. For many of us, it may have been difficult to think about anything other than the pandemic itself, especially when we have 24/7 access to news.
So here is a message for any writers who need reassurance: whatever writing you managed to do, or not, during lockdown is acceptable. More than acceptable considering you are living through a pandemic. It doesn’t make you more or less of a writer. Even if you had different expectations, failing to achieve your goals doesn’t mean you’re a “bad” writer. It means you are human.